Tips for Recognizing an Unethical Breeder


People purchase dogs for many reasons – often times it’s because of a deep love for man’s best friend; rooted in a childhood memory of an old canine companion, the need for a faithful working sidekick for the farm or ranch, or a promised gift for your own children to develop their own cherished memories of dog ownership.

The buyer’s journey can take many different routes; from adopting a rescue or a stray, to taking in a friend’s dog when they move away, deciding to explore the world of dog sports, or simply not being able to say ‘no’ to that proverbial dog in the window. Whatever the reason, each journey has its peaks and valleys.

When it comes to purchasing from a breeder, the chances are you’re exploring this route because of a perceived responsibility and nobility you feel for pedigree breeders. A broad term, ‘breeder’ is often associated with ideals of honesty, loyalty, and of trustworthiness – ironically, much like the perceived ideals we associate with dogs as a species.

The truth is, there are vast numbers of incredible, responsible, and ethical dog breeders out there. The practice of breeding dates back to the last ice age some 15,000-40,000 years, when the archaeological record notes a divergence between the ancient ancestors of the gray wolf, dog, and the now extinct Taymyr wolf. In 2015, a new study that cross-compared the metagenomes of 555 modern and ancient dog breeds found that a drastic ten-fold increase in pooch population occurred after 15,000 years ago, which may contribute to a more consistent date of broad domestication efforts by humans.

Dog breeding in its modern form became popular around the turn of the 19th century, wherein breeders adopted what Charles Darwin would have called Positive Selection, a process by which advantageous genetic and physical traits are allowed to sweep a population, favoring certain characteristics over others. Breeders first selected traits for working and sporting breeds and later turned to characteristics of aesthetics and ‘cuteness.’

So what should you be looking for in a reputable, ethical breeder? First and foremost, do your research. Acquiring your own knowledge about the breed you’re interested in, as well as common breeding practices, is paramount to having a better understanding of the preliminary stages of adopting a new pet, and working with the breeder you choose. A reputable breeder won’t have a problem answering any and all questions you may have – this is because as an ethical breeder, they should understand and appreciate that you’re buying a pet for life. As such, a breeder should make themselves available to you throughout the duration of your dog’s life. They should be willing to offer insights regarding the breed as a whole, as well as the specific litter you’re considering. 

They should also be incredibly knowledgeable about their chosen breed. If the breeder is unable to answer any specific questions about the breed, you should take note and ask yourself how a reputable breeder could afford to be anything less than an expert.

As part of your initial questions and inquires, be sure to ask for the breeder’s references. These should include dog owners who have purchased an animal from the breeder. If the breeder does not have references, or has an issue with sharing such information with you, that’s a big red flag. Related to this important topic of breeder transparency, an ethical and reputable breeder should also be willing to showcase one or both of the parents of the litter you’re considering, as well as their kennel space, and family history.

Having both parents on site is not always a good thing – this is where personal intuition comes into play. It’s rare that a breeder should possess both parents to create the “perfect” litter. Sometimes, having both dogs on site can mean that the parents were simply not watched over properly in the yard, and a litter is often the result. Be sure to counter and ask why and how they came to own both parents. If there is no good answer, or it’s something along the lines of ‘they were just both so cute,’ maybe the breeder isn’t in this for the correct reasons. An ethical breeder would put his dogs first before turning a profit from a new litter.

Similarly, you should be put at ease after viewing the puppies in a social setting with other dogs so you know they’ve led a stress-free life and haven’t been neglected.

Be sure to study pictures and photographs of pedigree examples of the breed you’re interested in. This will give you a sense of the dimensions, colours, shapes and behaviours to look for in your puppy. An irresponsible breeder will likely display ignorance or denial of any genetic defects in their puppies. This can be a sign of irresponsible breeding, and exhausting a breed’s gene pool due to potential inbreeding.

In the Age if Information, there’s a good chance you’ll come across your breeder by searching online. If this is the case, there are a few ways to spot a potentially unethical or irresponsible breeder. Consider the verbiage they use to describe their litters in posts, advertisements, disclaimers or descriptions:


- “Must go now” – This term could mean that the breeder is after a quick buck and is eager to produce another litter fast. It could also mean they’re aware of potential health issues or physical defects within the litter that can become more pronounced as time passes.

- “Giant” or “Extra-small” – Many references note that breeders whom market extreme sizes in their dogs are not always raising the healthiest animals. Such massive differentiations in size can result in unique medical problems due to excess weight or size – or not enough of it. Ask yourself, what is this breeder doing differently to achieve such sizes?

- “Rare” – Be sure to ask what constitutes a “rare” animal. This terms can be a fancy way of saying that the dog is not showable because it falls outside of the breed’s specification, or cannot be bred itself because of abnormalities in pigmentation, or size.

- “AKC/CKC registration” or “papers” – American or Canadian Kennel Club registrations are automatically included in the sale of a registered dog. Papers or registration are not a viable selling-point. The CKC website even states in their breeder code of practice, “a set of mandatory standards and requirements relating to the proper maintenance, breeding, selling and overall protection of their chosen breed(s)… It shall be the aim of every breeder to breed dogs that are healthy and sound in both mind and body, to ensure that the dogs are true to their heritage and that they meet the requirements of the CKC Breed Standards.” Papers simply ensure that the breeder is adhering to a set of mandatory rules.

Terms like these may truly mean, behind the scenes, that the breeder is trying to make the litter sound better than it is – again – do your own research and educate yourself ahead of time so you can ask applicable questions about the litter, the breeders ideals and practices, and your eventual new best friend.

Buying a puppy is one of the most exciting times in life for a family, or a dog sport enthusiast. Making sure you’re dealing with an ethical and responsible breeder will only accentuate the years of companionship and loyalty you’ll experience as an engaged and thoughtful dog owner.

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